A Hawke's Bay iwi leader's suggestion that the Government pay for some Māori funerals to help address social and health inequality in New Zealand has been backed by a former Hawke's Bay DHB chairman.
Ngāti Kahungunu chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana's suggested in Monday's Hawke's Bay Today that the Government could paying for funeral services for kaumātua over the age of 55 as a way to achieve Māori equity.
Tomoana floated it as a idea without going into "too much hand wringing and teeth grinding" as part of his role with the Government's Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on Superannuation.
He said hākuia and hākoro, or kaumātua, were the "most cherished members" of Māori whānau, alongside newborn pēpi, but they were not living long enough to claim the full benefit of the super scheme.
Tomoana said there was "massive disinvestment" in Māori elders who usually "die in poverty having invested their personal finances into the wider whānau".
He said paying for funeral services for kaumātua over the age of 55 would address the "heaviest intergenerational debt" a whānau underwent during a traumatic period.
"Much of the trauma is caused by the inability to pay.
"It is a front-end loaded, one-off payment which would go straight to the funeral director or through the iwi for distribution to the whānau or wherever it was needed," he said.
"If you aggregated the 'ghost' super payments that could have accrued if that person had lived to 74, then it is a miniscule amount as opposed to the 'savings' from an untimely death in the scheme of things."
Former Hawke's Bay DHB chairman Kevin Atkinson said he agreed with Tomoana's suggestion and said the country as a whole would be better if inequity between Māori and non-Māori was more openly debated and addressed.
Atkinson was DHB board chairman for nearly 19 years, before being replaced by Government-appointed chairman Shayne Walker. He still sits on the board.
Atkinson said the health system still had significant problems, including blanket screening ages that didn't address the fact that Māori have lower life expectancy.
"Last year when I was the DHB chair I tried without success to get the then Minister of Health, Dr David Clark, to reduce the bowel screening age for Maori reduced from 65 years to 55," he said.
This had yet to happen, he said.
"Ngahiwi's suggestion makes good sense," Atkinson said.
"We must make faster progress in reducing the inequity for Māori and Pacific people - exploring innovative ways of achieving this as suggested by Ngahiwi has my support."
Des Ratima, Hastings kaumātua and community leader, also agreed with Tomoana's idea.
"Too many of our pakeke die before being able to access super," Ratima said.
"They contributed throughout their working life and because of health, housing, education, Māori are dying without the benefits of their efforts.
"Paying for the tangi should not be seen as addressing a Māori problem, but as a positive response based on their working life contribution."
Terry Longley Jr of Terry Longley & Son funeral services said the idea is "certainly a positive idea which could be discussed".
He said a basic cremation can be done for roughly $3000 but a full elaborate burial can be over $12,000.
Longley Jr queried if it should apply to Māori only or if it should apply to anyone of any race who dies at an early age.
"It certainly opens up a lot of conversation about if anyone died at an early age could their non-earned superannuation go towards their funeral."
He also said there is already a Work and Income NZ grant over $2100 available to all New Zealanders in that sort of situation, but perhaps this could be increased.
"Once you start specifying a race to receive more money you start to ask if you could find an argument for other races who die slightly earlier, it's pretty complicated."
He said as a funeral service they would likely stand back from that sort of debate but are willing to work with iwi to come up with packages that are "fair and just".
"We have a responsibility as a funeral home not to have a $15k funeral for a family that can only afford a $5k funeral."